Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine will take evidence in the 2007 death of Craig Burdine to a grand jury next month.
But DeWine refused to say whether he will seek criminal indictments against any law enforcement officers or anyone else during the grand jury proceedings.
Craig Burdine died at the Sandusky County jail on Aug. 11, 2007, shortly after Fremont police officers and Sandusky County jail guards dragged him from a police cruiser into the jail.
Burdine already had severe injuries, including an open, bleeding wound on his head, a severe burn on his back and lacerations and bruises all over his body when he was arrested after a fight at a party on Sycamore Street in Fremont.
His family fought for a criminal investigation for six years, believing a jail guard caused Craig’s death by putting a chokehold on him.
They contend Craig should have been rushed to an emergency room rather than being taken to jail and that police automatically blamed Craig for causing the fight on Sycamore Street before they even interviewed anyone who was present when it occurred.
Police and jail guards insisted Burdine was being combative when they brought him to the jail, but none of the video surveillance from police cruisers or from inside the jail show that. The jail guards and police officers involved all provided matching written statements about what had occurred and none of them were interviewed after Craig Burdine died.
Craig Burdine was diagnosed with a mental illness and suffered from post traumatic stress from an incident years earlier when he was severely beaten by jail guards inside the Ottawa County jail. He was awarded a $600,000 judgement, which was later reduced to $200,000, after a civil lawsuit in that earlier incident.
Fremont police and Sandusky County jail officials were fully aware of that earlier lawsuit and resented Craig Burdine for it when they arrested him shortly before he died, Jess Burdine said.
After the incident in the Ottawa County jail, his son became convinced police would kill him, Jess Burdine said, and he became extremely agitated and frightened whenever he saw a police cruiser or any type of law enforcement officer.
After he agreed in August to conduct a criminal investigation, DeWine’s office quickly determined local officials had never conducted any sort of criminal investigation when Craig Burdine died.
Sheriff’s Capt. Sean O’Connell, who was a Fremont police detective at the time, contends he did conduct a thorough investigation. But O’Connell also stated in a court deposition he was not concerned with how Burdine died and didn’t interview any of the officers, jail guards or others who were at the jail that night.
Instead he relied on the matching written statements they had provided.
“What happened out there in the jail between the jailers and Mr. Burdine that’s between them. Let them do their investigation,” O’Connell stated in a 2010 deposition explaining he was only reviewing the circumstances, not the cause of Burdine’s death.
The sheriff’s office also never conducted a criminal investigation.
— BADLY BEATEN
An autopsy showed Burdine suffered extensive external blunt trauma all over his body and a fractured thyroid cartilage in his neck.
Lucas County deputy coroner Cynthia Beisser relied on what police told her and ruled Craig Burdine died from “excited delirium,” a condition often cited when a death occurs while an individual is in police custody but rarely cited for deaths that do not involve police.
But Dr. Michael Baden, the famed pathologist who serves as a New York Medical examiner, insists Burdine’s death was a homicide caused by asphyxiation — he could not breathe — after the thyroid cartilage in his neck was fractured by a jail guard who put a choke hold on him.
Jess Burdine, who has spent his life savings in the fight “seeking justice” for his son, hired Baden to review the autopsy report and other other information and reports.
But he’s never been interviewed by anyone from DeWine’s office, Baden told the Register on Thursday, even though DeWine has used Baden as an expert in grand jury proceedings in the past.
“I was concerned by this case,” Baden told the Register. “I hope there is a proper investigation done. I hope they have good agents there.”
DeWine refused to say if any of the police officers, jail guards, first responders or witnesses had been interviewed by his investigators during the seven months it’s been since his investigation was started.
Jess Burdine and his family are not optimistic DeWine intends to seek any criminal indictments despite what they say is overwhelming evidence that a jail guard caused Craig’s death.
“My confidence is shaky, but I am glad that they are doing this,” Jess Burdine said. “If they don’t bring indictments, with the evidence they have, they failed.”
Craig’s brother, Eric Burdine, said he does not expect anything to come from the grand jury.
“You keep your hope down so you don’t get your heart broken,” Eric Burdine said.
That’s a lesson the family has been forced to learn after the “fake” investigation local officials conducted, he said, and how they deal with people who have mental illnesses.
“They have killed him more times than you can imagine,” Eric Burdine said. “Every time they treated him like a second-class citizen they killed him.”
DeWine refused to say why Baden hasn’t been contacted, and Baden was reluctant to discuss his firm opinion that Craig Burdine was a victim of homicide in the event he is called as a witness before the grand jury.
“I stand by my report,” he said.